Kaytranada: ‘I prefer a house party vibe. Just the local place to have fun’

The top-flight remixer is in constant demand as a DJ. But it’s his first LP, featuring Vic Mensa, Syd tha Kyd and Anderson Paak that could make him a star in his own right. Not that he sounds thrilled about it...

You wouldn’t call Kaytranada an expert salesman of his music. “To be honest, I don’t know,” he says when asked about his hopes for his debut album, 99.9%. “I really hope people create memories and have good times with it. But if they don’t like it, it’s whatever, there’s other things they can listen to.”

It’s not quite what you expect. After all, 99.9% is packed with guest appearances from 2016’s hottest – Vic Mensa, Anderson Paak, Syd tha Kyd, as well as the year’s comeback hero, Craig David. It’s released on the none-more-cool XL Recordings. It follows a string of remixes that have established him as one of music’s most imaginative manipulators of sound, repurposing scores of artists, including MIA, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Azealia Banks, Disclosure, Pharrell Williams and Janet Jackson – both officially and unofficially – as well as production work with the Internet, Anderson Paak, Katy B, Talib Kweli, Freddie Gibbs and many others.

What propelled him from bedroom producer to top-flight remixer was his bass-heavy bootleg adaptation of Janet Jackson’s If in 2012, which became a Soundcloud sensation. He followed it the following year with a version of Be Your Girl by Teedra Moses, with sped-up vocals, and was given a Saturday-night residency on Radio 1. Soon after, he was out on the road DJing across the US and Europe, but began to feel typecast. He needed to stop – not just the DJing, but the remixing, he says. He needed to become himself. In 2015 he decided: no more shows, at least for a while.

99.9% is as much mood music as dance music. But the mood is party, rather than introspection. And while Kaytranada might be associated with electronic music, there’s a looseness to his grooves – his music is funky, rather than strictly programmed.

“I signed the deal [with XL] in 2014, and it didn’t make much sense that I had to go on tour when none of my music was out, only my remixes,” he says. “I’m not just a remix guy. Right now, everyone is offering me remixes, but I just don’t have the motivation like I did before. I will eventually, for sure, but it’s not what I am into right now.”

Kaytranada was born Louis Celestin, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in 1992; the family moved to Montreal the following year. His dad worked as a taxi driver and an estate agent; his mother in healthcare. His parents gave him a strict Haitian upbringing until they divorced when he was 14. The discipline at home couldn’t keep him focused at school, though. “I was really not into school. Everything was distracting to me. I would have a beat in my head or a song. I was always not paying attention, just daydreaming,” he says, fidgeting. “I didn’t finish high school. I tried to as an adult, but with all this touring I had to quit.”

Kaytranada at London’s Lovebox festival 2015.
Live … Kaytranada at London’s Lovebox festival , 2015. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/Redferns Photograph: Joseph Okpako/Redferns

In March, he headlined London’s 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy. “I’m really grateful to have played there, but it’s not my vibe to play in front of all those people,” he says. “I prefer a house party vibe. Just the local place to have fun. It’s always weird to me to be on those stages with all this responsibility.”

He is dealing with issues in other parts of his life, too. He has experienced depression, and believes the cause of his problems was dealing with his sexuality. Earlier this month, he told Fader magazine that he is gay, and that coming out to his family had been a source of anxiety. “We’re Haitians, and Haitians don’t appreciate gay people at all,” he told Fader. “I thought maybe it was a phase.”

Speaking now, he says a whole bunch of things had come together. “I had a lot of fatigue, and a real identity crisis and a bunch of stuff that I was going through, like my sexuality.” Then there was the music. “I felt pressured to complete the album quickly, and, on the other hand, I couldn’t escape the image of being a DJ.”

Yet, for all the stress, he has learned to let go. One of the ways 99.9% is being promoted is with a video game, but Kaytranada was happy to have nothing to do with that. “I suck at video games. The label came up with that concept,” he says, laughing.

99.9%, though, doesn’t sound like the work of a man who doesn’t care, who is consumed with worry. It ducks in and out of styles, like a joyride through R&B, hip-hop and electronica. And Kaytranada sounds almost euphoric talking about Anderson Paak’s contribution. “He asked me for beats – then he would do complete songs and even bring guests. The guy is amazing.”

Then the hesitancy creeps in. “I can’t say whether or not it’s my best work. Maybe people will see it in another way.”

• 99.9% is released on XL on 6 May


Phiona Okumu

The GuardianTramp

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